How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Opinion: George Washington Bridge debacle will have long-term repercussions

There will be many long-term repercussions from last September’s lane closings at Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge. While there is no direct evidence yet that the governor either pulled the strings or knew what transpired, it is very difficult to argue that he didn’t directly contribute to what occurred by creating a climate among his operatives that accepted as appropriate verbal bullying and retaliation against those who are not with them.

Gov. Christie’s pronouncement at his marathon mea culpa news conference that “I am not a bully” is false, based on the facts. Our governor has consistently acted like a bully throughout his tenure in office. His targets have included constituents, legislators, journalists, judges, students, teachers, union leaders and the head of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

His over-the-top bullying has been lauded in the national press for far too long. For example, national columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Christie can be a bully, but that may seem better than the alternative: a president who lets himself be bullied.” Being a big, brash bully has been the governor’s calling card — his basic modus operandi.

For more than a half-century, Caliper Corporation of Princeton has helped thousands of companies around the world select the right people, develop the best talent and create the organizational culture they need to succeed. Caliper defines leadership as “the ability that enables an individual to get other people to do willingly what they have the ability to do but might not spontaneously do on their own. Leadership implies that an individual has a special effect on others that commands their respect, admiration or affection and causes them to follow them.” No one would question, based on this language, that Gov. Christie is a very powerful leader who sets the tone of his administration.

The governor’s office under the Christie administration is an archetypal top-down organization with a strong central leader who rules the roost. The power in the Christie administration resides in the governor’s office, not with department heads. I can’t recall an administration in which Cabinet members were less prominent than in this one. The governor calls the shots.

Every administration has its own unique political culture or set of unwritten rules that guide staff with regard to what is expected of them — a set of shared beliefs, values and norms concerning the way politics ought to be carried out and that define the relationships among the public, local government, the Legislature and the governor. A clear understanding of an administration’s political culture can help make sense of the way the administration operates as well as the political decisions it makes.

I have argued for a long time that the Christie administration has made political decisions not through compromise and bipartisanship, but rather through bullying and deal-making. We have seen very little empathy and transparency emanate from the Christie administration. Instead, the watchwords have been abusiveness and closed-mindedness. It was never enough for the Christie administration to just beat an opponent, it had to eviscerate him. I would argue that the governor’s take-no-prisoners management style leads to excesses, regardless of whether he ordered or approved the actions.

Integral to the political culture of the Christie administration was a backroom deal struck between the governor and Democratic political boss George Norcross III and his cronies. It was this nefarious arrangement, not transparent bipartisanship, that drove governmental and political decision making over the last five years. The deal produced the votes that enabled the Christie administration to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class while preserving tax breaks for the wealthy, and it greased the wheels for Cory Booker’s easy path to the U.S. Senate.

Gov. Christie created a political climate in New Jersey that says punishing and denigrating one’s opponents is appropriate behavior. Enough was never enough. He set a tone that enabled his “good soldiers” to think it was OK to punish members of the other party who did not join Democrats who supported the governor’s bid for re-election. Although he still appears to have plausible deniability for what occurred at the George Washington Bridge, I have no doubt that he is directly responsible for what occurred by the belligerent tone he set.

There are a variety of repercussions. First and foremost, the governor severely damaged his “brand.” Up until now, his “Joisey style” was seen as a virtue. That is no longer the case. Many are questioning why his top lieutenants would think that political retribution would be OK with him.

Second, Bridgegate flushed out Democrats George Norcross and Senate President Steve Sweeney as his defenders. Their vouching for him, even when members of his own party were fairly quiet, made it clear that they were in his corner no matter what. This could come back to haunt Sen. Sweeney, if and when he seeks to run for governor.

Third, there is a growing sense that Gov. Christie is not temperamentally suited to be governor of the state of New Jersey, let alone president of the United States.